2021 Volkswagen Arteon Review

2021 Volkswagen Arteon - A surprise treat in VW's lineup that flies under the radar.


Arteon... what is that? This was the number one question I was asked during my time leading up to and driving the Arteon.  It is a five-door liftback sedan that is first debuted at the 2018 Chicago Auto Show as a 2019 model replacing the Volkswagen CC. And while it may not be a household name for Volkswagen, it is a vehicle that offers something different for consumers to standout on the roads. From a size perspective, the Arteon is slightly smaller than the Passat, but larger than the Volkswagen Jetta. However, from a pricing point of view, it is the most expensive sedan in the VW lineup with starting prices at $36,995 for a base model and up to $46,995 for the Premium top end version. It comes in three trim levels known as the SE, SEL R-Line or the SEL Premium R-Line. All models come with a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that generates 268 horsepower via an eight-speed automatic transmission. An available 4Motion all-wheel drive makes it a compelling option for Midwest winters. Competition for the Arteon is tricky because it competes with both entry level luxury sedans like the BMW 2-Series, Genesis G70, Infiniti Q50, Audi A4/A5, and Acura TLX as well as a couple other higher-end mainstream models like the Kia Stinger, Nissan Maxima and Mazda6.

Despite only being on the market for a couple years, Volkswagen has already given the Arteon a refreshed exterior that includes a new front end with an unmistakable lighting signature. It retains a wide stance with wheels pushed out to the edges and shorter overhangs (a design choice that differs from both the Passat and Jetta).  The look is aggressive, but luxurious with horizontal chrome grille strips that stretch across the front fascia emphasizing the width of the car while incorporating an LED light bar signature that lights up all the way to the center VW emblem. The Arteon features a high character line that wraps around the car to give it a lower stance appearance.  From the side profile, the slim and sloped roofline emphasize the rear lift back combined with frameless doors. Touches of chrome around the windows and at the base of the doors add refinement to the overall finish. New wheel designs available in 18, 19, or 20-inches fill the wheel wells offering their own unique designs and finishes to complement the car. Around back, the lines continue to wrap around including the lower chrome trim. The tailpipes are hidden behind the bumper with chrome trimming and the name Arteon is spaced out across the decklid in a modern font under the VW emblem. New taillights offer LED lighting and on R-Line models, a slim decklid spoiler adds some sporty flare.

In addition to the changes on the outside, Volkswagen also made significant updates to the interior styling including an updated infotainment system. The Arteon has a very upscale interior with aluminum accents and digital displays. Drivers will face an all-new fully digital 10-inch instrument cluster that is standard across trim levels. The new cluster offers 21 viewing options including speedometer, full digital navigation map, driver assistance features, phone information, audio information, driving data and more.  A new multifunction steering wheel features digital touch surfaces and controls. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is standard across all models and is heated in SEL Premium R-Line models.

To the right of the cluster, aluminum trim stretches across the dash surrounding the air vents to give it a modern, expansive feel. Centered in the dash is an all-new 8-inch infotainment touchscreen that utilizes a capacitive-touch sensor, which is common in modern cell phone design. The screen also enables features like swiping and pinch-zooming making it a true extension of your mobile device. Also new is wireless app smartphone integration that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Wireless app integration is growing in popularity, but not all manufacturers have the bugs worked out resulting in freezes or disconnections in the middle of travel. For the most part, VW had everything in working order with only one lost connection over the week which could just easily be blamed on the smartphone.  And while most of the controls have moved to the capacitive-touch, both a traditional volume and tuning knob remain. Below the touchscreen are the climate controls that also utilize the touch screen technology while maintaining the traditional climate control icons. An available Harmon Kardon sound system fills the cabin with an impressive sound system to fill the otherwise quiet interior. Overall, the vibe in the Arteon is encroaching on Audi level territory despite a few areas that still remind you it's wearing a VW badge with harder plastics. The Arteon is refined with sophistication and materials that make it worthy of the extra coin over the Passat.

The Arteon seats five passengers comfortably. Standard seat materials are a faux leather upholstery on base models while the higher trims are available with genuine leather. My test vehicle came with an optional two-tone Stone and Raven seat combination. Other options include a trendy Florence Brown or Titan Black. All come standard with heated seats and a 12-way power-adjustable front seats. SEL Premium models add ventilated seats, a massaging driver's seat, heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel.

Even with its sloping roofline, there is plenty of headroom in both the front and back.  All passengers are also treated to extensive legroom as well courtesy of the stretched 112-inch wheelbase. All three of my kids fit comfortably in the back seats and there is a LATCH system for car seats on either the driver or passenger side of the rear seats. Having driven the 2021 Passat recently as well, the Arteon seems to offer more passenger volume which is impressive given its coupe-like roofline and styling. Also offered is a panoramic tilt and slide sunroof on SEL models and up creating an even more openness to the interior.

The liftback design provides buyers with a very user-friendly rear cargo area.  It's not a traditional-looking hatchback, so it was often a surprise to many inquiring individuals to see the entire rear liftgate open. With the seats up, it offers 27.2 cubic feet of space, but when folded flat it increases to 55 cubic feet which is more than most traditional competitors. The hatch has a large opening which is a nice functional advantage for loading or unloading cargo, but can be higher to reach for shorter individuals, thankfully VW offers a power hatch as an option.

Under the hood, all Arteons are powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged and direct-injection four cylinder that makes 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.  A standard eight-speed automatic transmission paired with Tiptronic shifting mates to either front or all-wheel drive models that are dubbed as 4Motion. The powertrain is a carry over from 2020 and its initial launch. It offers a respectable turbocharged 4-cylinder that once you're cruising has controlled handling and responsive steering. It's a very fun highway cruiser but takes a little effort to get there. There's a little lag in off-the-line acceleration so it likely won't win a drag race against the BMW or the Kia Stinger. However, for the average driver it will deliver a dynamic driving experience that offers a smooth shifting transmission.

Just like other VW sedans, the Arteon offers a solid handling experience. Its wider stance and lower profile make it feel grounded while driving. Steering is precise making this an engaging ride for enthusiast drivers. A quick turn of the wheel and the Arteon goes right where you want it to go without hesitation.  The drive took me back to my 2013 GLI with crisp handling and solid grip to the road. It includes an adaptive suspension system that allows drivers to modify the dynamics in either Normal, Sport or Eco modes. The set-up provides a smooth ride that absorbs inconsistencies in the roads.  

The Arteon arrived with a full a 18.2 gallon gas tank offering up 425 miles of range. EPA estimates are 22 MPG City / 32 Highway / 25 Combined for front wheel drive models. AWD models are rated slightly lower at 20 City / 31 / Highway / 24 Combined. After a week of combined city / highway driving in the AWD model, I averaged 23.5 MPG. Volkswagen does recommend premium gasoline.

Standard safety features include electronic stability control, traction control, blind spot monitor, autonomous emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert and post-collision braking system, and many airbags. New for 2021, Volkswagen has rolled out IQ.DRIVE as a driver assistance package. IQ.DRIVE is available on the SEL and SEL Premium featuring hands-on semi-automated capabilities, lane centering, and  a capacitive steering wheel to reduce driver fatigue. The system utilizes front and rear radars, a front camera and several ultrasound sensors to enable travel assist, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and emergency assist. Other available features include dynamic road sign display, high beam control light assist, and park distance control.  A 360-degree surround view parking camera system is also available. As a fun a trick to show off, the rear-view camera is hidden behind the Volkswagen emblem on the rear hatch. When activated, the emblem flips up and the camera pops out.

Volkswagen has created something special with the Arteon. It shares the liftback design with only one mainstream competitor, the Kia Stinger, making it a unique option in the segment. It's a reasonably priced sedan that offers a sporty, luxury style all its own. VW has added great technology updates inside after only being on the market for two years which is an indicator of how quickly technology advances and how responsive manufacturers can be. The full screen navigation within the digital display paired with the head-up display speedometer was one of the interior highlights for me. And while a second, more powerful engine option would be a welcome addition, the 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder performs well while providing superb handling. If Arteon is a new name to you, you are not alone, but you should check it out if you want something that flies under the radar.

First Impression Summary:

Test Vehicle:
2021 Volkswagen Arteon SEL R-Line
Exterior Color: Red Metallic
Interior Color: Mistral & Raven Leather
Notable Options: Red Metallic Paint ($395)
MSRP as tested: $44,985

Jim OBrill

Jim is Director of Marketing for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and Chicago Auto Show and a co-host of Drive Chicago Radio on WLS 890 AM Chicago. His passion for cars started young and he’s often referred to as the ‘car-guy’ among family and friends. As a former auto detailer, he has an eye for identifying solid used cars and tags along on many car buying adventures. Early in his career he worked at several car dealerships in various areas of the business. As a co-host on Drive Chicago and member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, Jim has had opportunities to attend track school and drive vehicles on multiple circuits such as Road America and Gingerman Raceway. With a background in photography, taking pictures of vehicles has always been a hobby.

Jim also enjoys the trails and taking trucks like his 4Runner off road. He has a special appreciation for older cars and can often be found spending free time at cruise nights or home washing one his four vehicles. Jim resides in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three kids. Follow Jim on Instagram at @jpcars22 for new vehicle content or @forgotten_survivors.312 for shots of older cars still on the streets of Chicagoland.